Fighting toad fungus

Found at high elevations in a variety of aquatic habitats in the rocky mountains, the boreal toad population has decreased dramatically over the past two decades. In this segment, we join volunteer citizen scientists, Utah’s Hogle Zoo and Utah’s division of wildlife resources as they gather data at Bryants Fork, Utah, on the health of the boreal toad population.

TRANSCRIPT

Found at high elevations in a variety of aquatic habitats in the Rocky Mountains, the boreal-toad population has decreased dramatically over the past two decades.

This decline is believed to be caused by climate change and the spread of a fungus that thickens the toad's skin.

In this segment, we join volunteer citizen-scientists, Utah's Hogle Zoo, and Utah's Division of Wildlife Resources as they gather data at Bryants Fork, Utah, on the health of the boreal-toad population.

Today we're out at Bryants Fork, and we have some volunteers and some students of the Master Naturalist course.

And we are just out surveying for toads, and it's kind of on-the-job training, and the data is all going back to the wildlife biologists.

So we're just getting more people out there, and you get to enjoy nature, and it's all for a great, bigger cause.

♪♪ So, when we find a toad, the first thing we do is scan it with a PIT-tag reader for a little PIT tag.

If it's been found before, we will have tagged it.

And a PIT tag is essentially the same as when you microchip your pet dog and it has its name and address on and the vet can scan it if it gets lost, whereas a PIT tag has a unique number unique to that toad so we can tell individuals apart.

We also swab it with what looks like a Q-tip, and then this is gonna be sent off to a lab and to check if it has chytrid.

Chytrid is a fungus that lives on the skin of an amphibian, and it will harden the skin, making it harder for the amphibian eventually to move, but, primarily, for any water or gas exchange the amphibian needs to do to live a healthy life.

We always wear gloves, and we use these gloves one time per toad -- the same as our equipment.

It's always cleaned before and after, and this will help prevent moving any fungal disease between each individual.

So, if you're out and about and you see a boreal toad, you can go, and you can look at it and get excited about it, but don't pick it up.

Don't ever touch any amphibian.

And this will help prevent spreading chytrid, and it will keep the wild animals wild and happy.

♪♪

Citizen Science is large-scale data collection by the general public.

Anyone can take part in it.

There's different programs throughout the country that you can sign up and help collect data in your area, and that data then goes to organizations and scientists, and they can use it in their own research.

Benefit of Citizen Science is the large amount of data you can collect in a shorter time and in a larger spatial scale.

It helps scientists in a way that, through more and more limited funding, they can have people still helping and just gather more data in a day's work.

It's important to survey for boreal toads because they're currently a species that is experiencing a great decline in numbers.

Populations are shrinking, so what we are doing is helping restore the populations through reintroductions and habitat management.

And we can monitor to see if the actions that we are taking are helping slow this decline and helping bring the numbers back up.

Utah's Hogle Zoo is helping the boreal toad by committing staff hours and funding to survey for the boreal toad and also in habitat restoration in areas where there are boreal toad.

We also have an assurance colony here at the zoo, where we are raising them, and we're going to reintroduce them to the wild.

A boreal toad is what we call an 'indicator species,' and these are animals or plants that are very sensitive to their environmental surroundings.

If the environment starts to decline in quality through temperature changes or an increase in pollutants, these animals will be the first ones within that environment to react.

If we see a decline in boreal toads, it's indicative of a decline in the environment in which they're living in.